The Outer Limits: Cléebourg and the Quatre Bans

The Abbey of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul in Wissembourg

The wines of Alsace are among my favorites—rich Pinot Gris, snappy Riesling, the occasional white blend, an even more occasional Pinot Noir, and all of those delightful bubbles. Great wine, amazing food, incredible scenery—in my dreams, I retire in Alsace.

But back in the real world of wine studies, all good wine students need to know about the Vosges Mountains, the Rhine River, and the lay of the land in Alsace. For instance, nearly all of the 15,300 hectares/38,000 acres of vines planted within the Alsace AOC (including all 51 of the famous Grands Crus) are located along a 60-mile (96-km) swath of land beginning just north of Strasbourg (in the Bas-Rhin department) and ending just south of Mulhouse (in the Haut-Rhin).

Map of the Alsace AOC via https://www.inao.gouv.fr/

However, here’s a lesser-known fact: about 30 miles to the north of Strasbourg, there is a tiny exclave of the Alsace AOC. In the area surrounding the town of Wissembourg, we find a small cluster of obscure vineyards planted near the border (with some straddling the line) between France and Germany.

This tiny corner of the Alsace AOC covers just 5 communes of the Bas-Rhin department—Cléebourg, Oberhoffen, Riedseltz, Steinseltz, and Wissembourg—and measures just a few miles across and a few miles long.

According to the Wines of Alsace website, it is well worth the 30-mile train ride from Strasbourg to see this beautiful and unique region—the northernmost outpost of the Routes des vins d’Alsace. Once you arrive at either the Riedseltz or Wissembourg station, you can grab a car or a taxi and pay a visit to Cave Vinicole Cléebourg.

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According to the Cave Vinicole Cléebourg website, wine has been produced in the area since the 9th century BCE, beginning at Dominican Monastery in Wissembourg before spreading to Cléebourg and beyond. Despite a series of political upheavals, phylloxera, and devastation from the retreating armies after World War II, the area’s viticulture has managed to survive. These days, there are 190 members in the Cléebourg cooperative, producing a range of varietal wines and crémant d’Alsace as well as late harvest/noble late harvest wines (when conditions allow). Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sylvaner, and Auxerrois are the main varieties.

The Cave Vinicole Cléebourg is home to the Confrérie des Vins des Quatre Bans. The Confrérie (brotherhood) is composed of wine lovers (both brothers and sisters) who are interested in promoting the wines of the area. All members—which range from beginners/novices up to the levels of enlightened brothers/sisters, ambassadors, and 17 members of the Grand Council—must pass a series of increasingly difficult wine tasting exams and participate in regional wine events. Each year, the Confrérie selects a particularly high-quality wine to bear the label of the society.

Photo of Château de Fleckenstein by Peter Schmenger, via Wikimedia Commons

After a tour of the winery, I suggest you take the 11-mile (18-km) drive to the Château de Fleckenstein, a hilltop, Romanesque castle first built in the 12th century. Portions of the castle—including some stairs and several under-ground rooms—were carved out of the sandstone bedrock. The castle is in ruins, but open for tourism and educational visits.

The town of Wissembourg is a good place for a home base. Located on the German border and surrounding the Lauter River, Wissembourg is built around a central canal (the Lauter Canal) and is home to an several impressive gothic buildings, including the Abbey of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul, the largest parish church in Alsace, exceeded only by the cathedral in Strasbourg. Just on the other side of the abbey’s garden, you can visit the canal-side Maison du sel Wissembourg—first built in 1488 for use as a hospital and later as a salt warehouse—known for its exceedingly steep (and undulating-from-age) roof.

Northern Alsace looks like an excellent spot for a low-key wine vacation, and for those looking for a bit more immersion into wine…the Duetsches Weintor (German wine gate, noting the southern end of the German Wine Route) in Schweigen-Rechtenbach is just 2 miles (3.3 km) away!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

2 Responses to The Outer Limits: Cléebourg and the Quatre Bans

  1. foxress says:

    I love your writing and I love your enthusiasm for wine knowledge. You are an inspiration.

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